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Monday, 14 October 1996
Page: 4101


Senator FAULKNER (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate)(5.02 p.m.) —I rise to indicate that the opposition will be supporting the motion to disallow the government's Export Control (Hardwood Wood Chips) (1996) Regulations. There are fundamentally three grounds on which the opposition will be basing that decision. First of all, these regulations represent a major broken promise by the Howard government. Secondly, they seek to implement a seriously flawed and inadequate forest policy. Thirdly, they are technically deficient in a number of respects.

The forest policy that John Howard took to the last election bears no resemblance whatsoever to the policy that is outlined in these regulations. Back in March John Howard gave no indication that when in government he would raise the export quota, that he would abandon the two-stage licensing system or that he would allow an unlimited volume of woodchips cleared from privately owned forests to be exported. Yet that is precisely what these regulations allow.

In fact, at the launch of the coalition's environment policy on 31 January 1996 in the Dandenong Ranges National Park, John Howard was directly asked about export woodchip quotas. The following is a direct extract from the Prime Minister's own transcript, and I think it really demonstrates the depth of the deception of the coalition on this issue:

Journalist: Mr Howard, what about woodchip quotas? Would you guarantee not to increase woodchip quotas, export quotas?

Mr Howard: We don't have any plans to do that.

During the election campaign the clear message to the electorate was that there would be no change. A prospective Howard government was giving the message that it would basically follow through with Labor's national forest policy and Labor's wood and paper strategy. At the last election the Australian community understood when they elected a Howard government that it would not change the woodchip regime. These regulations and the increased woodchip quota contained in them are nothing more or less than an explicit broken promise from the Liberals.

The coalition took the conservation movement for a ride during the last election campaign. They sweet-talked and conned a few people like poor naive and gullible Mr Alec Marr of the Wilderness Society into believing that the Liberal Party would manage the environment as well as and if not better than Labor. That is what they conned poor old Alec Marr with. Mr Marr is quoted in the Australian newspaper on 2 February 1996 as saying that the coalition's policy `is still much better than the government's'. Don't these regulations prove what a sucker Alec Marr really is. Don't they show not only what a sucker Alec Marr was but also how dishonest the coalition was prepared to be in an attempt to neutralise the green vote at the last election. I am pleased to say that it was an attempt that failed.

After only seven months in office, the Howard government's environmental credentials are in tatters. Today Australia is lumbered with an insipid and wimpy Minister for the Environment in the form of Senator Hill, who shows absolutely no commitment to protecting the environment. I must say that Senator Hill's record speaks for itself, doesn't it? Since March, this Australian environment minister has managed to preside over the cutting of the environment budget by 13 per cent; he has given the green light to the Port Hinchinbrook development; he has failed to progress the government's response to greenhouse gas emissions; he has supported the expansion of uranium mines in Australia; he has given state governments veto powers over the listing of World Heritage areas; he has attempted to abolish the export control powers for minerals, which in the past have been used to protect environmentally sensitive areas from sandmining; and, of course, he has announced a massive increase in the amount of woodchips to be exported from Australia.

I am pleased that you are here, Senator Parer, because as the Minister for Resources and Energy you are the de facto environment minister. You are running the show; you are running Senator Hill. On environment policy, Senator Hill, I am afraid that Senator Parer is running you; that is, if and when Mr Howard and Mr Fischer do not roll over the top of you like they did on the Port Hinchinbrook development.

The Howard government's record on the environment is appalling. You are the responsible minister and you wear it, Senator Hill. It is no wonder that the Executive Director of the Australian Conservation Foundation, Jim Downey, said—at last—on Thursday on ABC radio that the conservation movement in this country did make a major mistake in trusting the coalition at all on its word in the last election.

These regulations are flawed. They provide no protection for the environment and provide no guarantee that a genuinely sustainable forest industry will be developed. The regulations state that one of their main purposes is to `encourage investment in value added production in forest industries', but there is nothing in the detail of these regulations which would indicate that this new licensing system will encourage investment in value added production in forest industries. There is nothing at all in these regulations that allow that to take place.

In fact, by substantially increasing the volume of woodchips exported, the regulations encourage the processing of Australia's forest resources overseas. They do not encourage the industry to invest in value adding technology on Australian shores. This is a major concern for workers in the forest industry, as I suspect you, Mr Acting Deputy President Murphy, would know better than probably any other senator in this chamber. It is a very major concern for workers in the timber industry in Australia.

The coalition would like the community to believe that these regulations only allow for an extra one million tonnes of woodchips to be exported. However, I think the ceiling on woodchips is made meaningless by the substantial quantities of woodchips which will be permitted to be exported under the degraded forest licences, which are not counted in the ceiling of 5.2 million tonnes plus one million tonnes—they are not counted in that ceiling. The ceiling contained in these regulations is nothing more or less than a sham, and it has been exposed as a sham.

The abandonment of the previous government's two-stage licensing system is a further indication that the Howard government has no plans to ensure progress is made towards a comprehensive, adequate and representative system of forest reserves. The mechanism that was contained in the previous regulations provided a very important means of ensuring that state and territory governments did progress the national forest policy statement. The absence of the two-stage licensing system in these regulations seriously risks proper implementation of the NFPS, which is something that Labor has been committed to for a number of years.

The government announced its transitional woodchip regime in July, and it has taken them over three months to draft new regulations. It is surprising that, despite the extended time taken in the preparation of these regulations, they are still so technically inadequate. For instance, there is no definition of `degraded forest'. Interestingly enough, poor old, inadequate, wimpy Senator Hill is excluded from the process which will determine what constitutes a degraded forest. Back in July, when the policy was announced, the environment minister was to be consulted on what constituted a degraded forest. However, the regulations as we see them now make no reference to poor old Senator Hill, the environment minister, whatsoever.

I must come to Senator Hill's defence, seeing that he is absolutely unable to come to his own defence. I will come to his defence and say that Senator Hill's omission from this process illustrates the lack of balance the Howard government has on forest policy and on environment matters more broadly. I am afraid it does nothing other than demonstrate the complete lack of influence that poor old Senator Hill, as the environment minister, has in this particular government.

Once again, poor old Senator Hill has been shafted by the National Party. The Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, Mr Anderson—ably supported by Senator Parer, the Minister for Resources and Energy, who has been shafting him also—determines what is and what is not degraded forest. According to the regulations, the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy must consider:

. . . the general state of the forest, and, in particular, whether the floristic composition of the forest has been altered by reason of disease, weed infestation, harvesting and other human activities, or other causes, and any other relevant matter.

The minister must commission a report on the forest by an experienced and trained person who is independent of the applicant. But there is no outline of the necessary qualifications for this report writer. The person could be an expert in weeds or plant pathology and write a report which completely misses the major aspects of forest biodiversity and potential regeneration. There are no safeguards in these regulations for important conservation values even being identified, let alone considered.

There is also no guarantee that forests which provide important habitats for native fauna will be protected. That is a subject that Senator Brown touched on in his contribution earlier. It is my view that the regulations limit the classification criteria for degraded forests to the floristic composition of the forests. There is no acknowledgment in the regulations that a forest, which could be judged degraded from a floristic point of view, might be an important habitat for native fauna.

The government's approval of unlimited woodchipping on privately owned land has significant biodiversity implications which the government is ignoring. The conversion of such forests to plantation instead of regrowth forests is a major step backwards for biodiversity. Plantations are seen normally as additional to existing native forests, reducing pressure on them in forestry production, not physically replacing them.

The clearing of native forests in the 1960s, the 1970s and more recently to permit the establishment of pine plantations has resulted in the destruction of substantial areas of native forests in Australia. That is a matter of fact that even someone like Senator Hill probably would not deny. From the point of view of biodiversity, there is comparatively little difference between a eucalypt plantation and a pine plantation when compared with native forest, be it degraded, regrowth or old growth.

The government's forest policy is very clearly at odds with its vegetation policy. Poor old Senator Hill says he is keen to throw millions of dollars at revegetating this country through the national vegetation initiative. However, Mr Anderson's woodchip regulations actually exacerbate the problem by encouraging the clearing of forest on private land. The government is sending out contradictory signals. I think poor old Senator Hill's real vegetation policy has been exposed.

The regulations' failure to properly assess each private forest and address major biodiversity implications of clearing forest on private land illustrates this government's careless disregard for the environment and very irresponsible approach to forest policy. There is no doubt that these regulations represent a major setback to the protection of the environment. They include no incentive for the industry to invest in downstream processing, and they represent a significant broken promise by the Prime Minister.

The Howard government has broken its promise to the Australian people—its solemn promise that it would protect the environment. It is now asking this parliament, this chamber, to endorse that betrayal. For the opposition's part—the Labor Party's part—we will not join the government in that betrayal. We do not want any part of this process and we will support the disallowance motion.